In yet another depressingly predictable move, the latest nominee for one of America’s top scientific agencies is not a scientist. This time, it’s the candidate picked to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is tasked with monitoring and predicting weather patterns and climate change.
This week, Barry Myers, the CEO of AccuWeather – a meteorological prediction company – was officially chosen by the President to undergo a Senate confirmation hearing. Unlike almost every other head of NOAA since it was founded more than four decades ago, Myers isn’t an academic, but a businessman and a lawyer who happens to own a weather-based company.
Once you’ve let out a deep, sad sigh, it’s fair to say that it’s not always necessary that a scientific agency needs a scientist at its helm to run well – see James Webb of NASA fame, for example. Saying that, 2017 is a rather strange time for American science.
It’s being censored as much as key federal scientists are being fired; at the same time, those that worked for or lobbied for the petrochemical and fossil fuel industries are being given powerful positions at agencies they’ve formally tried to fight against or even sue on many occasions. Trump has also repeatedly tried, and failed, to drastically defund federal science, including NOAA.
So far, the track record isn’t great. Already, the nation’s agriculture, environmental protection, energy development, public land protection, and space science are definitively in the hands of rather inept climate change deniers that aren’t qualified scientists. So what’s the score when it comes to the country’s federal weather wizards?
As pointed out by Mashable, the National Weather Service (NWS) – a state-owned organization – does not see AccuWeather as an ally. Back in 2005, the company supported a bill by controversial then-Senator Rick Santorum to greatly reduce the authority of the NWS, and transfer a lot of the science communication duties to the private sector.
In a recent letter to the Senate committee that oversees NOAA, NWS decried the notion that Myers might be Trump’s pick. “As you know, this position has traditionally been filled by a preeminent scientist, and by that standard alone, Mr. Myers is wholly unqualified for the job,” they succinctly summarized.
At present, it cannot be confirmed or denied that Myers is a climate change denier, and his company – unlike its rivals – doesn’t seem to talk about it much at all. He has personally donated to Santorum’s various political campaigns, though, and he certainly does reject the scientific consensus.
So once again, another Trump nominee represents both a spectacular waste of some of the country's best scientific minds and a colossal conflict of interest. Business as usual, then.